Columbus Symphony: A Burleske is Not a Burlesque

The first Columbus Symphony concerts of 2013 feature Hungarian Dances by Brahms; Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier;  Mozart’s rethinking of one of his most popular works and the Burleske for Piano and Orchestra by Richard Strauss.

Let’s get our mind outta the gutter. This Burleske is an early work by a Strauss  who is not related to Johann or any of the waltz kings.  Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was German, not Viennese. He was born when Johann Strauss and siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts were long popular in Vienna and elsewhere. Richard was a celebrated pianist by the time he was a teenager and became the protegé of Hans von Bulow by his 20th birthday. Working like this with Bulow is like a junior high footballer being adopted by Urban Meyer.

Hans von Bulow was the most famous German born pianist-conductor of the latter half of the 19th century. By 1885, Bulow was conductor of the orchestra at Meiningen, one of Europe’s finest, an ensemble much loved by his buddy and colleague Brahms.  Young Richard became Bulow’s assistant and introduced himself to his new colleagues with a new work for piano and orchestra.

Bulow hated it. Young Strauss, who conducted the premiere from the piano, said he too, disliked the piece. “Unalloyed nonsense”  (Unlegierte Unsinn’) he whined. “It might be of use with a better pianist and a better conductor.”

Strauss protested too  much. He was probably trying to stay on Bulow’s good side.  The older man had written to Brahms calling the Burleske “horrifying.”

Strauss was like the kid who got slapped by Woody Hayes.

Richard Strauss didn’t know how NOT to entertain an audience. True, this Burleske (“nothing” or “joke” as in scherzo) lacks the drama and sophistication of Death and Transfiguration, Don Juan or Der Rosenkavalier, but what’s wrong with having fun?

It might have been cheeky of Richard Strauss to write an entertaining piece for Meningen and Bulow. Note he didn’t call it a piano concerto. It’s atypical in Strauss’s output.  Concerti were not his strong suit.  Large orchestral works, yes. Song and opera, of course. But this weekend in Columbus we have a chance to hear a young composer at the beginning of sixty years of fame and be entertained.

Marc-Andre Hamlein is the pianist and Jean Marie Zeitouni the conductor this weekend at the Ohio Theater. The Columbus Symphony plays music by Richard Strauss,  three Brahms Hungarian Dances and Mozart’s Rondo-Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

Come hear my pre concert talks one hour before each performance.

And….HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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